13 February 2013

South Sudan to Respect Decision On Abyei Status, Says Official

Juba — South Sudan on Tuesday said it would respect decisions taken by natives of the oil-producing region of Abyei, if the Sudanese government continues derailing efforts aimed at a peaceful resolution of the area, as proposed by the African Union.

"The people of Abyei have inalienable right to decide their own destiny if the government of Sudan continues to deliberately refuse settling the final status by derailing the processes of conducting referendum on the basis of the African union proposal", said Luka Biong Deng, co-chair of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee (AJOC).

Deng, who was briefing journalists on the situation in the disputed region, said Abyei is not a contested region, since it was never been shared between the Dinka Ngok and the Messeriya tribes from the time an administrative unit.

"There is this perception that views Abyei as [a] contested area. This is just a myth. The area has never been shared between the tribes so that it could be a contested. The area is for the nine Ngok [chiefdoms] only. It is the Sudan, which has this perception, but which the international court of arbitration has corrected," he said.

Deng further clarified that the Hague-based court of arbitration ruled that Abyei belongs to the nine Ngok Dinka chiefdoms transferred to Kordofan in 1905.

"The final status will have to be decided through a referendum. The Misseriya are not in this area", he told journalists.

The African Union High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP), led by former South African president Thabo Mbeki, has recommended that should the two sides fail to come to a political agreement over the status of Abyei, a referendum be held in October involving those residents in the area.

The status of Abyei was scheduled to have been resolved in a referendum over two years ago, but differences between Juba and Khartoum over who was legible to vote caused it to be delayed. The situation was further complicated when the Sudanese army (SAF) forcibly took control of the area in May 2011 ahead of South Sudan's independence, displacing thousands of people.

South Sudan, last week, accused neighbouring Sudan of building and scaling up deployment of troops to the area, allegedly to facilitate comprehensive massive settlement of the Misseriya in the territory, ahead of the referendum.

In a related development, South Sudan's minister of Information minister said his country has compromised a lot over the area since 2005, but says the international community continues to accept claims made by the Khartoum government instead of acting on the situation in Abyei.

"We have exercised patience and made a lot of compromises since 2005. We started with report of the experts, who defined the Abyei area boundary, which they brought forward for implementation by the two sides and said yes. Sudan refused and the international community never acted," said Benjamin Marial.

The minister also accused the international community of remaining silent over Khartoum's rejection of all proposals aimed at peaceful resolution of the situation in Abyei.

"The international came up with the proposal which we accepted and signed the agreement to set up an interim administration in the area and we said yes. Now they (Sudan) are dragging their feet in what they have signed and the international community is not showing seriousness to let the pressure bear on Sudan," Marial observed.

Delay by the African Union to make a decision on Abyei, he added, will put the credibility of the 54-member body to test.

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